Inside Move: Producer pulls ‘Cheeky’ move

Styler courts Khalifa coin

Trudie Styler — actress, film producer, socialite and wife of Sting — knows how to make it happen. Fed up with of waiting for U.S. distribs to commit to her upcoming movie “Cheeky,” the directorial debut of actor David Thewlis, she simply went out and raised the money she needed from a rich friend.

Rafik Khalifa is one of Algeria’s most powerful businessmen. In the past decade, the 35-year-old entrepreneur, who trained as a pharmacologist, has built an empire that spans medicine, banking, airlines and a newly launched TV network. He’s based in Paris, and he’s also one of the biggest property owners in Cannes, where only last month he and Styler threw a star-studded gala to celebrate the launch of Khalifa TV.

Now he’s putting up $3 million — half the $6 million budget — for “Cheeky,” which starts shooting this month. The rest of the coin is coming from Luc Besson’s Europa, which is taking all non-English-speaking rights. United Artists was circling a U.S. deal, but with the clock ticking on pre-production, Styler, producing through her Xingu Films label, decided it was easier to go with Khalifa.

Styler will co-star in “Cheeky” with Thewlis, who also wrote the script. He plays a widower who takes part in a bizarre gameshow in order to get closer to his young son, because he thinks it was his wife’s dying wish.

Thewlis is still best known for his electric performance in Mike Leigh’s 1994 movie “Naked,” which won him the best actor prize at Cannes. Although Leigh took the screenplay credit, it’s an open secret that Thewlis created his own wildly inventive dialogue, crammed with biblical allusions, for the movie.

Besson — who has been friends with Styler ever since he tried to cast Sting in the lead role in “Subway” 20 years ago — is taking an exec producer role.

Besson and Styler are in exploratory talks to launch a U.K. distribution and production arm of Europa. The 2-year-old company has already established itself as one of France’s most powerful players and recently opened an office in Japan.

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